Playground project among good works of Coconut Grove Jaycees

By Jane Decker….

St. Alban’s crew pictured (l-r) are Susana Soler-Gold, Marsha Dorris, Maureen Urizar, Jane and Roger Decker, Katherine Sands, Tyler Morgan, Dr. Sands, Bryan Shore, Liane Ojito, James Pike and Amanda Alders.

The Coconut Grove Jaycees work hard all year to support two annual community events — the Back to School Event and a holiday Toy Giveaway.

Both events are well received by the members and, of course, the community and local children benefit as well. This year, the chapter was motivated to have a bigger and more lasting impact. So, they changed things a little.

For more than 10 years, the Jaycees would shop and fill backpacks for about 30 kids a year at a local elementary school. More recently the City of Miami and various organizations have stepped up their efforts to reach the disadvantaged in low-income schools. The chapter didn’t want to repeat a growingly successful effort on the part of the city and decided it was time to branch out.

This year, JCI Coconut Grove partnered with a local landscaping design and installation company, Southern Blossoms; the Home Depot Foundation, and a West Grove Head Start School, St. Alban’s Child Enrichment Center, to make that lasting impact.

St. Alban’s ( is a key figure in the West Grove community and has been around for more than 60 years offering childcare and pre-K classes to more than 200 families of West Grove every year with an additional location in South Miami.

Over the course of two hot August weekends, including one major rainstorm, the Jaycees assembled more than two dozen donated outdoor play toys, benches, sand and water tables and more.

On the second weekend, Southern Blossoms prepped and graded the outdoor play area, delivered 12 pallets of sod and 20 cubic yards of kid-friendly mulch. Over a dozen volunteers then sweated it out and laid an exhausting 5,000 square feet of Bahia grass, the day before the start of class. Executive director Dr. Sands and his wife and business partner, Katherine Sands, sighed with relief at the sight of the completed play yard.

“When I think about all of the time and effort you put into this project, I want to reach out and give you a hug,” Katherine Sands said about the project. “When I went outside and saw you picking up and putting down sod, I had to smile. Before health issues, I would have jumped right in myself.”

Now, the children have a naturally shaded and plush grassy play area not just for this year, but for years to come. It benefits this group of kids and so many more, and that was the impact the Jaycees were seeking.

You never know where that next project will come from or how the community will benefit. The Coconut Grove Jaycees were there in the nick of time and are looking forward to a celebration event to officially dedicate the St. Alban’s Butterfly Garden and Nature Center.

Many volunteers that helped including Carmen Mendez-Mackesy and her crew from Southern Blossoms; Dr. and Mrs. Sands and the St. Alban’s staff; Coconut Grove Jaycees including Jane and Roger Decker, Bryan Shore, Marsha Dorris, Michael and Susana Gold, Tyler Morgan, Maureen Urizar, Liane Ojito, German Acosta, Sary Mabjish, and even new friends Anna Plaza, Amanda Alders and James Pike.

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